Two years ago, I wrote a column about same-sex marriage, and how there were no sane or logical arguments against it. I have to admit something now: I said something in that column that was wrong:
There is an argument I take notice of, though it’s not an argument against gay marriage. It’s that we couldn’t get a law passed, that too many ordinary people are opposed, and it would never be worth burning off the political capital to try it.
Well, here’s what I believe. There are a small group of people passionately opposed, and a small group passionately in favour, and like any issue, a huge mass in the middle who just don’t give a crap one way or the other.
I was wrong, and I know this for sure now because we actually have polling data. (Hat-tip to No Right Turn here.) Research NZ did the polling and I've just had a thorough read through the results. Turns out almost nobody doesn't have an opinion. In a survey of 500 people, with a margin of error of +/- 4.6%, 60% of New Zealanders over 18 are in favour of same-sex marriage, and 34% are opposed. Only 2% offered no opinion. The question asked was:
The next few questions are on a range of topical issues, the first is on marriage... In your opinion, should same-sex couples also be allowed to marry?
In a way, this is a huge relief. As far as public opinion goes, it turns out that we're not "more socially conservative than Iowa", or "more religiously-influenced than Spain".
So given that in fact voters favour same-sex marriage by nearly two to one, why is this considered such an untouchably dangerous issue for any political party? It is, after all, what "we" want. (Yes, I know, on polling, "we" have wanted some pretty fucking insane things, but nobody's been arguing against, say, being "tough on crime" because it would be a vote-loser.)
Well, okay, maybe there are variations in support by demographics that would make it risky for a particular party because of where they draw their support from. Labour and Maori and Polynesian voters, for instance.
Support for same-sex marriage among Pakeha? 61%. Among Maori and Polynesian? 66%. Okay, maybe poor people are more socially conservative? No, no significant difference by income.
The significant differences are by gender – males 54% yes 41% no, females 66% yes 27% no – and by age. Over 55 is the only category where support drops below half*, to 44% in favour and 49% opposed. Among people 18-34, support is at 79% in favour and just 19% opposed.
So really, the only way a party refusing to support same-sex marriage makes any sense is if their target voters are old. Even men are more in favour than they are opposed. And as we've seen, targeting older voters is a long-term winning strategy.
To be fair to the Greens, they do at least have a solid, specific policy platform on this issue. This hasn't, however, led to a Green MP submitting a private member's bill amending the Marriage Act, or commiting to personally fighting for such a bill.
Of course, any vote on removing the discriminatory language from the Marriage Act would be a conscience one. What that means is that it's worth asking the question of every candidate for every party. I'll be writing to every candidate in the Port Hills electorate, for instance, pointing out this polling data, and asking:
- would you personally be prepared to put this bill forward?
- would you vote in favour of it if someone else did?
And I'll be letting them know that yes, my electorate vote is entirely up for grabs on this issue. Here's a list of candidates by electorate so, if you want, you can do the same. Here, also, is a list of how MPs voted on the Civil Union bill. The Labour candidate for my electorate is Ruth Dyson. She voted in favour. The National candidate is David Carter. He voted against. He also voted in favour of the Marriage (Gender Clarification) amendment. What a guy.
My party vote? Currently with the Greens. But if another party is prepared to publicly make a commitment to put the bill forward and back it, and the Greens won't match that commitment, I will change my vote. For serious. That's how important not being More Socially-Conservative than Argentina is to me.
I also think it's really important to let our politicians know that the 60% vote too. Given we outnumber them nearly two to one, why can't we get heard over the morally-conservative opposition? Why aren't we saying, very loudly and publicly, you know what? Yous were wrong about Homosexual Law Reform. Yous were wrong about Civil Unions. The sky didn't fall. In fact, nothing bad happened at all. You're also wrong about same-sex marriage. Our current marriage law is unjust, it's unfair, it's discrimatory and it needs to change.
*Except for the very amorphous "other" ethnic category, which does so because the "don't know" is significantly higher.